Child narrators and protagonists have been a recurring feature of much of the literature produced in and of Zimbabwe since independence 1980. Their experiences of growing up have often been seen as mirroring that of the nation itself, such as in Nervous Conditions (1988) and We Need New Names (2013), depicting childhood as inherently political and directly involved in social and historical transition. This article asks what happens when the child is not an explicit embodiment of the nation’s growth and development through painful historical phases, and examines the child narrator in The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam (2008) by Lauren Liebenberg and Peace and Conflict (2014) by Irene Sabatini. Instead of being placed centre stage in the midst of turbulence, war and social change, the child narrator in Sabatini’s novel remains at the periphery of repressive politics, acting as a spectator, commentator and investigator. Liebenberg’s narrator is more politically informed than Sabatini’s, and family tragedy converges with the end of white rule in Rhodesia. Both narrators depict the disconnect between past, present and future through their innocence and naivety. This position enables an instructive approach in the novels to the nation’s past and present. Through their separate trajectories, the novels channel a nation left behind, stagnant in its repressive measures and unable to move forward. Instead of representing the nation and its development, the child narrators in the two novels suggest that the colonial past and violent present of Zimbabwe cannot be reconciled.